Pride (UK: 2014): Too many good performances can be a problem

Pride is a film about empathy and building solidarity between groups coming to recognize that there is more to an alliance than a common foe. An enemy’s enemy is not really one’s friend until one actually comes to understand what their battles are about. The movie is set during the UK Miners Strike of 1984/85. It is a fight that we know the miners will lose, which makes the scenes of solidarity heartbreaking and uplifting. There wasn’t enough to the story to maintain my interest for the entire film. I kept wanting to feel good, but after an hour I wanted the makers to stop introducing new characters and instead have the ones already introduced do something other than have mix-and-meets.

The movie opens with Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) preparing to go to the 1984 London Pride parade. This would be shortly after the Battle of Orgreave, in which 5,000 miners rioted against a roughly equal number of police in Yorkshire. He is gathering buckets from neighbors in his apartment complex to take to the parade with a plan to help raise money for mining communities cut off from strike pay.  Schnetzer plays Ashton with tremendous energy, and those who knew him verify that the character is true to life. I could see how it would be difficult to say no to him if you were around him for any amount of time. It is not a surprise that a group would form around him to give any idea he had a try.

At the parade, we are introduced to Joe (George MacKay), a 20 year-old gay man, who stumbles into activism. He meant to observe the parade from the sidewalk, but ends up carrying a banner briefly before joining the labor cause with other members of the newly formed Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) group. He is reluctant, but eventually his involvement becomes all consuming. At a critical moment in his life his socialization within the gay community is wrapped up with a larger struggle for a Welsh village. (Apparently, he is one of the few main characters who is completely fictional.)

Ashton decides that the group has to do more than raise money and send it away – they need to have an on the ground presence. The LGSM calls several villages and finally finds one in Onllwyn, South Wales, which will welcome them. Over the course of the next year, the commitment of  the group to the village is steadfast. We don’t know why that is except the villagers and gays and lesbians like each other.

There are several scenes in the movie that tug at the heart, but the movie relies on a few too many well-worn tropes and  subplots that might make good films in themselves, but aren’t really explored in any depth. There is a scene where the gays liven up a party in Onllwyn and one where the villagers experience gay social life in London that are largely played for laughs. There is an “I’m gay” revelation (there’s always one) and a “Coming Out Gone Wrong” plot that really adds nothing to the story.  Andrew Scott plays a gay man who was originally from Wales who has the opportunity to reconcile with his mother. It is all very touching, but it the more personal stories added, the less I feel we get to know anyone long enough to know them well. Since backdrop of the movie is  a politically charged moment, maybe someone in the film would talk about politics a little more specifically, because in politically charged moments, that’s what people do.

Almost everyone in the cast is excellent – but so what if they are? We don’t experience the characterslong enough to appreciate any of performances. I found myself wishing that the movie was just Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton making sandwiches for a half hour talking about his brother, his life, and what happened in 1968 that gave Hefina an inkling about his sexuality. Maybe maybe a subplot with Menna Trussler learning to cook lentils while Andrew Scott tells his story. As it stands, I thought the movie had too much clutter.

** of Five

IMDB: Pride

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